During the past 20 years, the landscape of the book publishing industry has been slowly shifting. Traditional publishing houses continue to be assimilated into massive, multi-national media conglomerates, making it more and more difficult for unknown authors to be published. Meanwhile, a new breed of smaller, technology-based publishing companies have been doing exactly the opposite.

Online Publishing Companies

Also referred to as author-originated publishing companies, online publishers are companies that use the Internet and the latest in print technology to provide authors with a fast and affordable way to print, promote and sell their books. To do so, online publishing companies use an approach known as print-on-demand (POD), which uses digital technology to print in smaller runs with the same high-quality results produced with traditional, offset printing methods.

POD also allows online publishing companies to save money by printing and warehousing their books more efficiently and as they're needed, without the waste and expense traditional publishing houses produce by printing thousands of books at a time. Online publishers then pass these saving to their authors in the way of relatively small set-up and publishing fees.

Differences in Royalties

In the traditional publishing world, the small percentage of authors that are actually published, typically receive an advance for their book with promises of more (typically five to ten percent) once the book has sold enough to cover the publishing company's expenses. Unfortunately, nearly 75 to 80 percent of all books published by big publishing houses don't make enough to pay off the publisher's expenses, and hence, don't make enough to pay the author any additional royalties.

Online publishing companies handle royalties in a much more simplistic way. Authors pay a one time publishing fee and then get a percentage of every book sold. Although the way these royalties are calculated often differs from online publisher to online publisher, there's no gamble built into the royalty system if a book sells, the author gets a percentage of the profits.

Your Book or Theirs?

When authors sign a book deal with a traditional publishing house, they sign their book rights to them also. Basically, this means that the book is no longer the authors. Sure, it will have the author's name on it, but the publisher can take things out of it, add to it or change it at their discretion.

Through online publishing companies, authors keep all of the rights to their book. This means they can write what they want and how they want.

"Not only does this freedom allow authors to produce books that are more expressive," says John F. Harnish, Author and Special Projects Director at Infinity Publishing, "but, it also allows for wonderful books to be written that would never have been considered by mainstream publishing houses."

With the non-exclusive contracts offered by POD publishers, authors can take their book to any publishing house they want. And, once their book has proven successful, some authors even take their sales results and use them as a stepping stone, to sign on with traditional publishing houses.

Time is Money

With traditional publishing houses, it typically takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months to publish a book and make it available through retail stores. With online publishing companies, this same process can take place in a matter of a few months.

This means that through POD publishers, an author's book can become available quickly, giving it time to gain momentum and capture an audience. On the other hand, authors who go through traditional publishers may have to sit on their hands and wait years before they can even start promoting their book, let alone build a readership.

In the end, it comes down to what authors really want. They can play publishing roulette with traditional publishing houses and hope their book stays intact and is profitable enough to earn royalties. Alternatively, through online publishing companies, they can pay a small fee, keep all the rights to their work and make a commission on every single sale.

Yes indeed, the landscape is changing in the book publishing industry, and thanks to POD publishing, it's looking better every day.


Harnish, John F. "The Rambling Rose of Book Publishing." 2005. Dec. 8, 2005 Harnish, John F. Phone Interview, Dec. 8, 2005

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